On Friday, May 11th, the indie circuit will feature the debut of a film titled The Hip Hop Project. One showing is going to be down the street from my law school at The Charles, our independent theater hub in Baltimore. I hear someone making the rounds on our local hip-hop station and our local Fox affiliate, hyping this project, and it sounds very positive and very bold. Being in my usual early morning stupor, I don’t know who is behind this voice, but the message was enough to get me moving.

Even in the release of the film to the public, the movie has challenged assumptions about its content — direct and indirect. The MPAA tried to slap an “R” rating on the film because it uses the word “fuck” 17 times throughout the movie, which barely spans an hour and a half. According to XXL Mag, the backers of the movie project appealed, and the board voted to change its rating to “PG-13,” meaning hopefully it will reach more audiences and have wider influence. The net proceeds of the movie will be used for the benefit of youth organizations.

Through Hip Hop Press, I found more information about the movie and project initiative:

“THE HIP HOP PROJECT” is told through the eyes of the teenage Kazi, previously homeless, yet he inspires a group of New York City youths to transform their life stores into powerful works of art, using hip hop as a vehicle for self-discovery and redemption. Created by Matt Ruskin, Scott K. Rosenberg, and Chris “Kazi” Rolle, the film attracted Q-tip and Willis because of its model for young people to express themselves using hip hop..

“These negative connotations that are placed on this culture, on this music, are not the total truth,” Q-tip explained at the “THE HIP HOP PROJECT” premiere. “Hip hop is a lot of introspection, a lot of self discovery. I hope after you see this film you are able to see another side to what we do and how we do things, that when we come from a place of oppression or depression how we are able to metamorphous like a butterfly and change and see the beauty in ourselves and spread that beauty. I think this film embodies that.”

Bruce Willis chimed in, furthering Q-tip’s comments: “I really thought it was a great idea to help Kazi create a space for the people that he knows and have been in his life to come together, create and express themselves artistically in a safe place and with first class equipment. I think we accomplished that beyond anybody’s dreams. All the proceeds from the film are going to go to non profit organizations. That was Kazi’s idea, he’s a really cool kid. I’m really proud of him.”

Backed by celebrity star power and hip-hop moguls (e.g. Queen Latifah, Bruce Willis, and Russell Simmmons), I’m looking forward to seeing where the movie goes and finding out more about the project itself:

Lional Freeman founded the Hip Hop Project in 1995 in an effort to give Chicago hip-hop artists a media to express their opinions and showcase their talents. Now, nine years later The Hip Hop Project still airs every Saturday night and has become a staple in Chicago’s hip-hop community. Broadcasting out of Loyola University’s Rogers Park campus, The Hip Hop Project combines live mixing and social commentary that you cant hear anywhere else on the dial. It’s 7:30-11:30 pm timeslot provides Chicago with a better opportunity to hear what’s going on in the city we call home.

Local talent has always remained our concentration, but we still offer the highest quality hip-hop from across the globe. During their tenure on our show, TernAround, Roper and Eves continue to mix live weekly; a procedure still not used in most college radio shows in Chicago. Since WLUW also broadcasts over the Internet at http://www.wluw.org, Chicago now has a stronger voice. We also provide out of state artists the chance to broaden their horizons by doing live call-in interviews on our one of a kind radio experience.

Now, in 2006 we are glad to bring you our website. The Hip Hop Project.com and the service it provides are without question long overdue. The website plans to offer the same ideas and concepts our radio show provides, the only difference is our site 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

I went to Rotten Tomatoes to see if any prescreening reviews popped up, and I’m noticing a thread of discontent about the narration of the film. Instinctively, I want to say that perhaps Hollywood has dullened our senses to human efforts that do not reach above and beyond superlative, even in its documentaries (a la Michael Mooresque politicodrama); however, I don’t want to push that too far without seeing the film for myself. So here are the reviews for some balance: Emanuel Levy, Slant Magazine, Reel.com. Levy gives the most forgiving interview of the three. I also learned through the Reel.com review that a sister in the film uses hip-hop as her form of truthtelling (all of them do; but the subject matter of hers kinda perked my ears — my emphasis):

While many of the teens are shown so briefly that they’re more or less interchangeable, a few distinctive personalities emerge. The most compelling rappers are Princess, a young woman dealing with the pain of an abortion and a father in jail, and Cannon, a bright kid who ignores school because he’s so confident his music career will take off, and whose mother is afflicted with multiple sclerosis. Ruskin’s camera follows the three leads into some uncomfortably intimate situations, but for the most part he focuses on the work of The Hip Hop Project itself. As one might expect, the artistic results of Kazi’s experiment are somewhat mixed; Princess’s heartfelt rap about her abortion is extremely moving, and Cannon’s fast, funny rhymes are as clever as his more serious compositions about his mother.

I think in this project and its development we may see a working model of the types of changes we can bring to the entertainment industry and create an inspirational community building endeavor. You can hear in the trailer that Willis mentions this project is spreading. This is a portal into alternative methods of keeping informed about our local artists and trailblazers, supporting them while challenging the pervasive and oppressive reinforcement of racism, misogyny, homophobia, and ablism by mainstream entertainment and politics. One of the main ways to combat the negative influences and flawed perceptions of dominant media is to bring these initiatives forward. So let’s get our muscle behind this! Link the trailer, find more press releases, and most importantly go see this film for yourself. Also, share more information about different initiatives helping to promote positive hip-hop. Our attention and our support can push this film beyond the independent market.

Here are other resources of positive media influence and projects I’ve heard of through blogging and word of mouth over the past few days and weeks:

Essence Magazine’s Take Back the Music campaign (source)

Take Our Music Forward campaign (source)

A petition directed at BET, VH1, MTV, and mainstream radio (source)

But Some of Us Are Brave Radio

Positive Hip-Hop Podcast (source)

The Black Woman’s Roundtable

The Minus One Plus One Campaign (source)

The NAACP STOP Campaign (source)

Hip Hop Press

Underground Railroad on WBAI 99.5 FM (NYC’s only progressive community-sponsored radio station) (source)

Finally and most importantly, register to attend the 9th Annual Allied Media Conference! That’s a link to BFP’s entry; Nadia at No Snow Here’s been hyping it up as well with information about the conference and tips for fundraising.

(will be crossposted at AfroSpear and Culture Kitchen after my exam; originally posted on my blog)